On Phoenixes (Plus Some Other Flaming Things)
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about destiny, it’s that it sure does work in mysterious ways. After being laid off from my previous position due to the coronavirus pandemic, I spent the period between March of 2020 and mid-summer 2021 focusing on various creative projects, until the pandemic finally began to wind down enough that I felt comfortable planning to rejoin the work-force earlier this fall.
I must’ve applied for hundreds of the various and varied writing-related jobs scattered across the reaches of LinkedIn and Indeed, but I very clearly remember the day I first got offered an interview for a job writing for Reco Intensive and Institute. Firstly, because that was the first position I felt an immediate “spark” with, given my pre-existing passion for psychology and for helping others achieve better mental health. And, secondly, because I encountered an unusual amount of fire.
I was staying at my cousin’s house for the week, and we were on our way to meet a co-worker of hers for Hibachi when we passed the burning car. Thankfully, it seemed as if everyone had managed to escape from it, with a wide berth having cleared around the potentially explosive object. The potentially explosive object which I, strangely enough, couldn’t help but see as a good omen.
This is because I’d become temporarily obsessed with the idea of the phoenix, a mythic bird-like creature that springs from ancient Greek folklore but that is also a prominent figure in today’s popular culture. It is known, primarily, for two things: the fact that it has magical, healing tears and its ability to burst into flames and re-emerge reborn from the ashes.
I’d been thinking about phoenixes because they were a major motif in the play that I had recently finished writing, which also featured a character named Evan whose arc involved a struggle with alcoholism.
Evan’s casual drinking in accordance with his college-musician lifestyle had spiraled into a more serious substance problem after the pandemic robbed him of his usual social outlets. It’s he who makes the decision to bring a bottle of tequila to a fateful gathering of he and his fellow band members, one of the many factors that leads them to disregard their planned coronavirus safety procedures and results in an outbreak of the virus amongst their group.
And this gathering, too, is where phoenixes first come into play, in the band’s de-facto leader Jeff’s new song, lyrics excerpted below.
The flowers don’t know why it rains
They don’t know why it pours
Nobody flies down to explain
Tomorrow spring’s in store
And when the phoenix feels his flames
He doesn’t know he’ll rise
He doesn’t know what caused the pain
He only knows he cries
And when the flowers’ petals fall
Within a winter chill
They can’t imagine growing tall
But find the faith they will
And who knows why the phoenix cries
Who knows what’s in his tears
Who knows why so many die
But angel, have no fear
And me and you
We’re burning too
As fevers scorch the world
But there’s a phoenix coming through
With gorgeous wings unfurled
You can trust in me, my friend
You can trust the fires to end
And angel, trust my heart
You can trust his tears to mend
And let our lives restart
And when the spring has come again
The flowers all in bloom
No one will remember when
Their leaves were lost in gloom
And when the phoenix looks around
To see the world revived
He doesn’t dwell on what burnt down
He’s strong cause he’s survived
Now, when the cynical Evan first hears all this, he basically thinks that it’s complete BS. However, later in the piece, in the aftermath of a tragedy, it’s when Evan is reminded of this song by stumbling across a bar called “The Inferno” that he has an epiphany about how destructive his addiction has truly been.
“Which really ****ing pissed me off, at first,” he says in a monologue.
“Because it wasn’t that suddenly I wasn’t desperate for it, it wasn’t that that did anything to quench the thirst. It’s just that, then, picturing it as fire…it made me think about how contagious things can be. It made me think about how even though I still gave zero ****s about hurting myself, there was no way of making it so that I could be sure I was the only person that going in would hurt. Because look at all the people that I’d already hurt.
And sometimes that’s just how the scale tips. One moment of hesitation, sometimes that’s enough to make you stop and take stock of everything that you’ve lost. To glimpse your reflection staring back at you through the window and think, maybe, enough.”
So, now, back to the night of the flaming car… and of the Hibachi. I remember being mesmerized by the fiery food in front of me, thinking about all the implications of fire, the way the same force that can burn down countless cities can rescue food from its rawness and forge precious metals into shaped and lovely things. And I remember quite clearly that it was while I was at the restaurant that I got a text from my eventual supervisor asking if I’d be free to come in any earlier in the week.
So, as you know, I got the job. And since? It isn’t always easy to be immersed in a topic as intense and serious as addiction, that can have so many dark crevasses and that has tarnished so many people’s lives.
But at the same time, as I attempted to articulate in my last personal piece, the landscape of despair is always one that has been oddly comfortable to me. And to some degree, the belief that what I’m doing in advocating for sobriety, recovery, and redemption is meaningful is what allows me to thrive in these flames.
So maybe, what I’m trying to say is…. That any time you spend stuck in the hell of addiction is time that you spend playing with fire. Not to say that it’s easy to leave; more like that many people will only decide to recover from an addiction the way they might decide to run out of a burning car broken down on a freeway—because it’s the only thing that they can do to avoid being blown to bits.
But from a distance, in the moment, nobody can tell a redemptive rebirth from a life that’s merely going up in smoke—not even, necessarily, the person who’s fleeing the fire. That, before you take those first few excruciating steps, there’s no way of knowing what wonderful things might arise out of the ashes of your addiction, or what fragrant flowers might await within recovery’s fated spring.
And, there’s no time like the present to begin your journey out of the fire and towards a brighter future. To learn more about RECO Institute and how our sober living residences and associated treatment program can help support you in your recovery from addiction, feel free to reach out to us today at 561-665-5925.